|The power to do this can be put to good use|
by Richard Mellor
Afscme local 444, retired
Some 30 years ago here in the US there was a strike of air traffic controllers. These folks had very important jobs, they made sure two planes didn’t collide in mid air. Still, the thug Ronald Reagan fired them and, with his power as president of the US, barred them from ever working in their profession again.
The heads of the US trade union movement did practically nothing other than organizing a few rallies here and there and this gave the bosses the green light in their offensive against US workers which increased intensity throughout the eighties. Their offensive was victorious primarily because the heads of organized Labor refused to lead a fightback. Two incidents from that period stayed in my mind. One was when an air traffic controller described her job to me, “Have you ever played Pacman” she asked me. “of course, I love the game” I responded, (this was the eighties after all) “Well, when two blips collide on my screen I lose 500 people” she said.
That strike was as much about working conditions as it was about money, even more so which is normally the case. But I remember watching the news one night and a reporter was interviewing a passenger at an airport in the Midwest and he asked the traveler whose flight was delayed due to the strike, “What must it be like to be held hostage by the air traffic controllers?”
Well no bias in that question is there?
On my local news tonight the first issue raised was a poll that the station did. This station is owned by Rupert Murdoch and, would you believe it, their poll found that 238 members of the public, said that the transit strike was the “workers fault”. Whether it was 238 more than who didn’t find it was the worker’s fault or that it was 238 that did and maybe 212 that didn’t, wasn’t made clear. What was clear was that the workers were “guilty” and that the public had, “little sympathy while the economy is recovering.”, surely, that’s all the man or woman in the street needs to know. The newscasters did qualify it by saying that the poll was not “scientific.”,
The news report went on to make it clear that, “ A lot of people out of work would love a job like BART.” This is the most important role for the unemployed, a force to keep those of us working quiet for fear of finding ourselves among their ranks.
This Bay Area transit strike is getting a massive amount of air-time as I have mentioned before. This is a section of the working class that has considerable economic power in the Bay Area due to the particular spot they hold in our society’s production and distribution of things. This is something the bosses want to stop and the one percent’s media made certain that it was brought to the public’s attention that in other cities such as Boston NYC and L.A, strikes of transit workers are illegal. We can be sure that the 1% will have their politicians introduce legislation to prevent Bay Area transit form striking in the future. The 1% and their political representatives that run society have a long- term plan as opposed to the trade Union leadership whose strategy in response to the their offensive is to offer concession after concession in the hope that this horror scene goes away.
Terrified that their own members might go a little too far and threaten the relationship they have built with the bosses based on labor peace, the union leadership from the heads of the AFL-CIO on down are desperate to end all this and are appealing to the union busting governor of California Jerry Brown to intervene and end the strike by imposing a 60 day cooling off period. It’s hard to say what the response to this might be but it is quite possible the 1% might allow enough anti-Union sentiment to develop among the public before the state intervenes.
One of the anchors on tonight’s news introduced another important piece of information for the masses to absorb, the “rising power of unions.” Don’t laugh; this is what they said. This is their mass media passing on some important information that the power of workers’ organizations is on the rise. The problem is that no one who knows the slightest thing about the labor movement in the US and has an objective viewpoint holds that position; the rank and file of organized labor certainly don’t accept it nor do all the academic labor “experts.”.
“The Unions have a lot of power” said a former transit board member tonight, but he adds, “Riders have a lot of votes.”, in an attempt to scare the BART workers in to submission.
This strike is a major inconvenience to other workers. Those of us that are passionate supporters of the strikers understand this. The bosses and their media will focus on this inconvenience portraying themselves as those concerned about the welfare of the public. But it is not this inconvenience that matters to them. The problem for them is that business activity is inconvenienced. That profit taking is inconvenienced, that “their” income is affected. It’s pretty inconvenient when you don’t have enough money to buy food or get a doctor for your child but that’s acceptable. You won’t see quite the same coverage for that issue on TV.
All wage earners should support the BART workers, it’s in our own self interest to do so.
But not everything is right about how this is playing out. BART workers and AC Transit workers should be meeting together in joint mass membership meetings. In fact this should have been going on for months. I spoke to many rank and file workers at the occupation of 14th and Broadway in Oakland today and a huge number of them really had no idea what all the issues were. The AC transit should strike with BART as should the City of Oakland workers. Together they can force the 1% and their political flunkies to back down and actually win gains.
But such an approach can only win if the communities these workers serve and the wider working class are brought in to the battle. I won’t repeat what I have already said with regards to this as the reader can check it out here and here. But if any group of workers wants the public on their side we have to offer the public something. We have to show the public we are fighting for their issues as well and want to join with the activists and the communities to win them.
The fact is that the 1% is serious about putting us on rations. The autoworkers have been tamed by the 1% with the cooperation of the UAW leadership. The public sector is now vilified in the mass media and blamed for the crisis of capitalism after public funds dragged their rotten system from the edge of the abyss. Their plan for us has no forward motion. We have what we do due to the struggles and sacrifices of others. We owe it to our youth not to passively give up what was won for us through past battles, in fact it is our duty to defend those social gains and expand on them.
It is our duty to defend our brothers and sisters who are on strike and to help improve the material conditions and social rights of all workers.
One aspect of that is to recognize that the mass media is not objective but a conscious propaganda machine of the 1%